Drought affected Hunter farmers say they need more help

Help that’s on the table for drought-plagued farmers isn’t hitting the spot, some Hunter landholders say.

While the federal opposition says much more needs to be done to assist producers struggling in dry conditions to stop the emergence of “food security issues”, the government says it has delivered measures to help farmers.

Low interest loans, financial advice, debt restructuring services and a household allowance - a general hardship benefit not specifically linked to droughts - are the cornerstones of state and federal assistance available.

But Upper Hunter farmers Fairfax Media has spoken to say the measures haven’t helped them in a drought.

They say the loans were of little benefit when they could walk into a bank and get a low interest loan anyway. And the last thing many want is to go into more debt to stay afloat during a tough time.

Ian MacCallum, a fifth generation farmer from Moonan Flat, said the government should bring back the freight subsidy for having feed delivered.

Given that some farmers have spent upwards of $30,000 a week extra feeding their livestock recently, it’s an idea that was roundly welcomed when put to several Hunter farmers last week.

“It wasn’t a hand-out. You had to have your receipts for your fodder and receipts for your transport. You had to pay up-front,” Mr MacCallum said. “It was a psychological help too. It’s not much, but when you’re a bit down it’d give you a lift and you’d think somebody does care.”

Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon - also Labor’s federal agriculture spokesperson - criticised the household allowance for its three-year limit.

He said the Intergovernmental Agreement on National Drought Program Reform, signed in 2013, would expire in July. It aimed to support farmers facing hardship and help them improve business risk management.

“If nothing changes more and more people will be forced to leave the land,” Mr Fitzgibbon said. 

“Over the long term if we don’t acknowledge we have to change our land use practices and show more foresight in government planning it could eventually become a food security issue.”

A spokesperson for federal agriculture minister David Littleproud said the minister was “aware of the tough seasonal conditions facing some farmers in the Hunter and his truest sympathies go out to them”. She said Mr Littleproud had seen the challenges of drought in his electorate, which covers much of southern Queensland.

“So he knows how important it is for anyone going through a tough time to maintain their dignity,” she said. “That’s why the Coalition government has delivered a number of measures to help farm businesses through drought.”

  • ‘Drought affected farmers need more help’ is part of an ongoing series of reports by the Newcastle HeraldMaitland MercurySingleton Argus and Hunter Valley News investigating the effects of drought of local farmers in the Upper and Lower Hunter.
This story Drought affected Hunter farmers say they need more help first appeared on Newcastle Herald.